Top 25 Best Value Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs for 2022



Criminal Justice is one of the fastest-growing career paths in the US, with the new demands created by immigration, Homeland Security, and protecting a booming population. And while the criminal justice field remains one of the few areas in which people can still get a satisfying, middle-class professional job with only a bachelor’s degree, there is a great demand on the job market for individuals with higher degrees. As more police departments, government agencies, and private security firms make a BA or BS degree a minimum requirement, a graduate degree is one of the most effective ways to distinguish yourself as a candidate.

While on-campus master’s programs exist, since many people seeking a master’s degree in criminal justice are adults already working in the field, colleges and universities have scrambled to establish online degree programs. The main benefit of online learning, of course, is the ability to maintain a full-time work schedule and still attend class in a flexible, convenient format. But all online degree programs are not the same. The best, of course, tend to be the most established, from the most reputable schools, institutions whose names signal quality and reliability to employers. Pointing you to the best programs, with the most affordable tuition rates and the best combination of reputation and cost, is Value Colleges’ job.

Methodology: How We Ranked the Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

For the Value Colleges ranking of the best online criminal justice master’s programs, the editors selected programs from accredited institutions offered in fully online or hybrid formats. Programs are ranked according to their tuition rate, student satisfaction, and potential salary, using data from IPEDS and Niche. 

1. CSU Global

The CSU Global Master’s in Criminal Justice program provides a high level of training in the criminal justice field with a foundation in theory and the fundamental practices to succeed in management in the public and private sector. The program emphasizes specific outcomes to enhance decision-making, evaluation of the use of technology to fight crime, research cybercrime, terrorism, and international crimes, collect data, and understand the path to prevention as it relates to the impact crime has on society.

CSU Global is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission with high-profile partnerships with the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Coalition Against Insurance Fraud (CAIF). This program was ranked #1 as the Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice by Best Masters Programs.

Program: Master’s in Criminal Justice

2. University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida MS in Criminal Justice program gives students perspective as they navigate the continuously changing landscape of criminal justice. This program can be completed within a two-year period and assists students as they enter or move forward in careers related to the field. A success coach is included to provide additional support for students to gain a deeper understanding of what to expect once working in the field.

The University of Central Florida is consistently on the roster of U.S. News and World Report’s best colleges, named Most Innovative for 2021. The school is also ranked among the top 30 in the nation for cybersecurity. This makes the program one of the best online criminal justice programs to attend. Fees vary based on in-state and out-of-state programs.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

3. Boston University

Boston University’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice is a 16 to 18-month program. Students learn practical knowledge needed to understand the legalities of cybercrime and cybersecurity risks while being exposed to the world of corrections, policing, and what really happens behind the scenes of the judicial system. Upon completion, students will be ready to sit for the forensic examiner exam. 

Launched in 2002, this was the first online program from Boston University. This was also named #2 in the best online Criminal Justice master’s programs in 2021 from U.S. News & World Report. One of the unique elements of this program is its global network of professionals working in the field where students have direct access to ask questions and gain insight. Tuition is reasonable and students may qualify for financial assistance. Members of the American Jail Association (AJA) may receive an application fee waiver to the program.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

4. University of San Diego

The University of San Diego’s MS in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership was designed to enhance the knowledge and skill set of individuals already working within the law enforcement field. The practical skills learned can be immediately applied throughout the entire duration of the program and can assist in helping move from line person to management. This program is five semesters delivered in an online format with the flexibility to accommodate a variety of schedules.

The University of San Diego is a top 100 university according to U.S. News and World Report with a huge networking base and faculty with extensive experience. Financial aid and interest-free payment plans are available. Created by law enforcement professionals for law enforcement professionals, it is one of the best online criminal justice masters programs for those in the field.

Program: MS in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

5. Michigan State University

The MS in Criminal Justice program at Michigan State University is a two-year program spanning every area of the industry. Students learn 21st-century practical knowledge and theory, focusing on public policy. Students will be able to navigate areas of law enforcement including intelligence, counterterrorism, crime control, national security, and more. Internships are also available for students to provide hands-on experience.

Founded in 1935, this is one of the oldest programs of this nature in the world. Ranked #5 Best Online Criminal Justice Program on the graduate level by U.S. News & World Report in 2021, there are specific requirements to become a part of the program. Recognized as a top research institution and leader in educating criminal justice students, the school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. This affordable program is 30-credits with financial aid available.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

6. University of California, Irvine

The Masters of Advanced Study (MAS) in Criminology, Law, and Society program at the University of California, Irvine is designed to meet the needs of students seeking to excel in management and leadership. This online program is 52 credits. Completed in two years, students will also have a capstone course with a research paper. The ultimate goal is to have well-rounded students that can adapt to any environment with foundational knowledge and principles.

Ranked #1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the second year in a row, this is the best online master’s in criminal justice for students to explore. The faculty includes former presidents of the Law and Society Association, the American Society of Criminology, and other prestigious organizations. A fully-accredited online graduate degree, students may qualify for financial aid, scholarships, and first-year fellowships.

Program: Masters of Advanced Study (MAS) in Criminology, Law and Society

7. Saint Joseph’s University

The Saint Joseph’s University MS in Criminal Justice provides a theoretical perspective for students looking to move forward in management as they pursue a career in criminal justice. There are six tracks in the program students can focus on: Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, a general track, Forensic Behavior Health, Federal Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, and Intelligence and Crime Analysis. On average, the program takes 18-24 months.

Saint Joseph’s University has been recognized as #8 in Regional Universities North by U.S. News & World Report, in addition to being one of the best colleges for Veterans North for 2021. The program is one of the best online masters in criminal justice degrees available. Financial aid and graduate assistantships are available in a limited quantity. Additionally, alumni of the school can qualify for 10% off the program. A Yellow Ribbon school, Saint Joseph’s caters to veterans and accepts educational GI benefits.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

8. Texas Christian University

The MS in Criminal Justice at Texas Christian University caters to individuals seeking a career within the industry that offers flexibility. A two-year online program, students have all the privileges and access of those attending on campus with a two-day orientation prior to beginning. The program is rigorous and engaging with courses that combine research, analytics, and data with interactive learning.

Providing quality education for over 150 years, this nationally-ranked online program is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), excelling in diversity and inclusion. In 2020, TCU received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award by Insight Into Diversity. Scholarships and financial aid are available, in addition to students who have a GI bill.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

9. University of Oklahoma

The MS in Criminal Justice at the University of Oklahoma focuses on research and theoretical foundations in the criminal justice industry. This enhances the mindset and knowledge-based of individuals working in the field or considering going into this field of study. Students complete two, three-hour courses every 16 weeks to complete the program in two years and one semester. Coursework is administered and submitted through the Canvas LMS.

The University of Oklahoma is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is ranked one of the Top 10 Best Online Colleges for 2020 by U.S. News and World Report. That makes this one of the best online criminal justice masters programs in the nation. Financial aid and scholarships are available to students who qualify. Tuition and fees vary based on resident and non-resident designation. There are also certain student fees assessed for every individual.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

10. University of Colorado Denver

The Master of Criminal Justice from the University of Colorado Denver is a convenient way to gain the insight and education to move forward in a career or upward to management in the criminal justice industry. Designed to offer flexibility and convenience, students maintain the same levels of excellence while receiving the same standards, faculty, and curriculum while online. Students are prepared for policy and administration throughout the criminal justice system in a 36-credit hour format. 5 core courses, a 3-credit hour internship for those with no experience in criminal justice, and a 3-credit hour research capstone or 3-6-credit hour thesis is required to graduate.

The program was founded in 1972 and is fully accredited. Named Best Online Programs, and Best Online Programs in Graduate Education in 2021 by U.S. News & World Report makes this an attractive consideration for the best online masters in criminal justice. This particular program is ranked #24 in the best online masters in criminal justice programs. Financial aid and scholarships are available for students who qualify. Tuition and fees fluctuate based on the individual program.

Program: Master of Criminal Justice

11. Arizona State University

The MA in Criminal Justice at Arizona State University was designed for individuals who seek a deeper understanding of the criminal and legal system as it relates to society. This program studies the elements of crime, its impact on society, why crime exists, and how justice should be applied in each situation. Students are also equipped with the knowledge and training to prepare financial reports, risks assessments, and move into a management role. Some coursework includes Criminal Justice Planning and Program Evaluation, Seminars in Corrections, Policing, Criminology, Sex Crimes, and Criminal Justice.

This program has a strong faculty of leaders in the industry, including Fellows from the American Psychological Association and Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. U.S. News & World Report named Arizona State University as one of the Best Homeland Security Programs and offers one of the Best Online Masters in Criminal Justice Programs. Tuition is based on resident and non-resident criteria, but more than 80% of the students attending the university receive financial aid.

Program: MA in Criminal Justice

12. Florida State University

The Florida State University Master’s in Criminal Justice is a competitive 36-credit hour program. Students have 15 hours of core courses which include Survey of Criminological Theories, Computer Applications in Criminal Justice, and Research Methods in Criminology. This degree also requires 21 credits in electives. All coursework must have a “C” or better. The online program requires a course packet containing a study guide, textbooks, and media used throughout the program. Each student also has technical requirements to meet. The application process is detailed, requiring proof of academic achievement, GRE score (unless working in the industry for over 5 years), current resume, and 300-to-500-word personal statement.

Florida State University’s program was named one of the Best Online Masters in Criminal Justice in 2020. Highly recognized as a research university with an entire roster of scholarly professors, the goal of the institution, faculty, and alumni is to prepare students for the 21st century and beyond. Students may qualify for financial aid and the school also accepts the GI bill. There are limited scholarships available for police officers.

Program: Master’s in Criminal Justice

13. University of Houston Downtown

The MS in Criminal Justice at the University of Houston Downtown is designed to offer an intensive program in critical thinking, diversity, criminology, leadership, and administration. It trains students how to move into administration with the knowledge and skill set to successfully plan, evaluate, and implement the correct principles and standards for an effective and efficient system that works with the community. Students who have prior knowledge and experience will excel in this program while opening the doors to other areas of the industry. This is a 36-hour degree program that has a thesis and non-thesis option. Students in the thesis option must have 12 hours of electives, 3 hours of Thesis 1, and be enrolled in Thesis II through completion. Students in the non-thesis option must complete 15 hours of electives and CJ6301.

Students wishing to enter the program must have a bachelor’s degree, GPA of 3.0 or higher, submit three recommendation letters, write an essay to demonstrate writing skills, and have a transcript that outlines pre-requisite coursework.This degree was named one of the best online criminal justice masters programs in 2021 by U.S. News and World Report. Students may qualify for financial aid or scholarships to offset costs.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

14. University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham MS in Criminal Justice has two tracks designed to enhance the skill sets and provide a strong foundation for individuals already in the field or those wishing to work in the field of criminal justice. The Thesis Track program is for students wanting to become professors or pursue a doctoral-level degree. The Non-Thesis Track program is for those who are seeking additional knowledge while working in the industry to move into management or another facet of this area. A Demonstration project is required, and students should plan on having an internship. Coursework includes research, criminological theory, patterns in crime, and criminal justice policy.

There are limited assistantships available for students in the program. Financial aid and other scholarships are also available. Student service fees are also incorporated into the first hours of student coursework each term. This program is the only one in the State that requires students to complete an internship. Additionally, the program is known as a huge research university with numerous accolades for research and academics. One of the most affordable online degrees in this concentration, it is one of the best online criminal justice programs in the country.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

15. National University

The Master of Criminal Justice program at National University has four-week classes and is designed to develop leaders within the criminal justice space. This degree can be completed in 12 months. Students gain analytical skills to tackle issues of retention, motivation, and morale; learn how to evaluate law enforcement officers that demonstrate unethical conduct, compare America’s criminal justice system with others around the globe; analyze court decisions and their ramifications on individuals and criminal justice agencies, and gain insight into management demands and perspectives within the criminal justice industry.

This university is the largest private nonprofit university in San Diego. They have a diverse faculty of practitioners who are able to provide real-world perspective and applicable knowledge to students. Financial aid and scholarships are available for students, including The Opportunity Scholarship and The Fast Track Scholarship. There are also specific grants available for students who demonstrate need. A Yellow Ribbon school, National University accepts the GI bill. A fully online program, this is one of the best online criminal justice programs to consider.

Program: Master of Criminal Justice

16. Regis University

Regis University’s Master of Criminology is designed to look into the mind of a criminal ad understand their behavior to successfully apply the principles to prevent further crimes. Graduates of this program have careers in a number of industries that work adjacent to criminal justice such as security, the military, human and social services, and public policy. Graduates of the program also work for the federal government. There are two areas of focus: Human Behavior or Cyber crime and Terrorism. A 36-credit hour program, students study in 8-week terms.

Regis University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). A Jesuit Catholic university founded in 1877, their goal is to deepen the understanding of the Jesuit Catholic tradition while providing an enriched education to all students. There are different types of financial aid and scholarships available, including incentives for military and veterans. The school was named #3 for Best Online Colleges and Schools in Colorado by Study.com, and #1 in Colorado for Best State Economy Overall in 2020 by U.S. News and World Report. This makes it an affordable option when seeking the best online masters in criminal justice programs.

Program: Master of Criminology

17. University of Massachusetts-Lowell

The MA in Criminal Justice at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell is a popular program around the country with only 11-courses to complete with tons of flexibility. Overall, the degree can be obtained in 18 months. The areas of concentration in this degree program include crisis and emergency management, sex crimes, terrorism, leadership, law, and public policy, and others. The faculty is well-known for their expertise in transnational crime, mental health and the justice system, and weapons of mass destruction, providing an in-depth and comprehensive look into the criminal justice system from a practical standpoint.

Ranked #4 in Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and #2 Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs for Veterans, this is a very competitive and rigorous program. The program is also Quinn Bill-certified by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. For those working in the system, or those looking to enter the field, this is an excellent program that offers financial aid and scholarships.

Program: MA in Criminal Justice

18. Florida International University

The MS in Criminal Justice at Florida International University is designed for students who are pursuing a career in teaching others the perspectives and ways of the criminal justice system. Students entering the program have a number of requirements to meet before being admitted, including transcripts, two letters of recommendation, nothing less than a “B” in undergraduate work, statement of purpose, and a research paper to demonstrate the quality of writing. This is a 36-credit hour course that has 15 core credit requirements, four electives, and three general electives.

The school also offers joint degrees with the College of Law and has a number of scholarships and internships available along with financial aid. The Law Enforcement Apprenticeship Program is very attractive for students, where they receive specialized training along with classroom instruction. The MSCJ ranked #2 in the nation for Best Online Master’s Criminal Justice Programs by U.S. News & World Report.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

19. University of North Texas

The MS in Criminal Justice for the University of North Texas offers a number of opportunities to students to be a part of ongoing research. The curriculum offers students insight and perspective in empirical, practical, and theoretical knowledge. Students are also able to complete internships and tailor their degrees to meet their personal goals while pursuing a professional career. This program is unique in that it also offers study abroad trips to enhance knowledge and provide in-depth knowledge of how the criminal justice system works in other countries.

The graduate school offers students a number of workshops geared toward professional development, including a Thesis boot camp. There are two concentrations available, and students must submit a personal statement on why they want to be in the program. Financial aid and scholarships are also available for students, and this is a very competitive program to consider when researching the best online masters in criminal justice programs around the country.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

20. University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati online MS in Criminal Justice gives students an inside look into crime and criminal justice using psychology, law, sociology, and criminology. Students are trained to understand and be able to assess how things work from a theoretical perspective to help advance their careers or start a new career in criminal justice. This is an 11-course curriculum designed to provide flexibility while training students in the fundamentals they need to succeed.

This online Master’s in Criminal Justice program has been named #11 by U.S. News & World Report in 2021, and the school is also ranked in the top 15 Best Criminal Justice schools on a recurring basis. Financial aid and scholarships are available, in addition to a 20% discount offered to individuals in the Fraternal Order of Police.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

21. University of Louisville

The MS in Criminal Justice at the University of Louisville is specifically designed for professionals already working in the field who are looking to move into management or are considering a career in training. This rigorous curriculum focuses on social responsibility, ethics, and social dynamics to help move the needle as the country experiences unrest and confusion. The coursework has a number of research components and procedures where students will use critical thinking and other methodology including statistics to make informed decisions. 

This is one of the best online master’s programs in criminal justice for 2021 as named by U.S. News & World Report, and also one of the Best Online Programs for Veterans in Criminal Justice. Students are able to qualify for financial aid and other scholarships to help them further their education.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

22. Concordia University-Saint Paul

The MA in Criminal Justice Leadership at Concordia University Saint Paul is a 36-credit hour program that is fully online and caters to the working adult who wants to enhance their education and move up in their career or is switching careers and seeking the foundational knowledge needed to succeed. A flexible program, students are challenged with learning diverse skill sets needed to make an impact in the industry. Each course is 8 weeks in length, giving students an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in learning.

This program is popular locally and has gained a lot of attention nationally as students work through the curriculum, applying first-hand knowledge. When seeking the best online master’s degree in criminal justice, this program is one to consider. Financial aid is available for students, as well as scholarships to help offset the costs of the program. Military personnel may use the GI bill to go through the courses.

Program: MA in Criminal Justice Leadership

23. Nova Southeastern University

The MS in Criminal Justice from Nova Southeastern University is a rigorous online program designed to assist those in law enforcement or those pursuing a career in law enforcement succeed, this 30-credit hour program has 5 core courses, 12 credits in specialty concentrations, and 3 electives. There is an intensive application process to go through prior to admission.

Considered one of the best online master’s programs in criminal justice, this program offers financial aid and a number of scholarships to students that qualify. The Valor Award 20% Scholarship is also available for law enforcement, veterans, military, and first responders.

Program: MS in Criminal Justice

24. CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The MA in Criminal Justice at the CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice is a 36-credit program designed to provide a background in research for students who wish to enhance their working knowledge or prepare for further education. Students must also pass an examination to qualify for the degree. Credits earned for this degree can also be applied to an advanced certificate program in Terrorism Studies, Crime Prevention and Analysis, Race and Criminal Justice, and Criminal Investigation.

Founded in 1964, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is an educational leader with Pulitzer Prize winners as part of the faculty. Designated as one of the Best Colleges for Your Money by Money Magazine, it is one of the affordable options when seeking the best online criminal justice masters programs. Financial aid and scholarships are also available.

Program: MA in Criminal Justice

25. Rowan University

The Rowan University MA in Criminal Justice is designed to immerse students into real-time issues to research and gain insight into criminal justice reform. Completion requires 30-credit hours, with courses delivered in 7- or 8-week modules. A thesis is required.

The Online Schools Report named this program one of the top criminal justice schools in the nation, making it one of the best online master’s in criminal justice programs in the country. There are many options for financial assistance, including grants, work-study, and institutional scholarships.

Program: MA in Criminal Justice

Why Should I Get My Master’s in Criminal Justice Online?

Getting a masters in criminal justice online can pave the way for career advancement or beginning a new career. With a masters in criminal justice online, students can complete their degree while working full-time. Find out why it’s worthwhile to get a master’s in criminal justice and the expected salary ranges for different positions. 

The criminal justice field includes professionals working in state, local and federal law enforcement agencies as well as corporations and other organizations. With a criminal justice masters program online, students can enhance their law enforcement or related career opportunities.

Job candidates who take advantage of criminal justice graduate programs online have a better chance of breaking into the field then those with the baccalaureate degree or no college degree. Many students obtain their masters in criminal justice online after completing an undergraduate program in criminal justice or a related field.

While a high school diploma, associates degree and bachelors degree meet the minimum educational requirements for many law enforcement and corrections jobs, completing a criminal justice masters program online shows great initiative and can help candidates pursue advanced positions. Of course, a criminal justice graduate programs online can also help candidates earn higher salaries.

The degree types vary in name, since criminal justice is an interdisciplinary area that includes social science, psychology, technology, and more. Most schools offer a Master of Science (MSCJ), Master of Arts (MACJ), or Master of Criminal Justice (MCJ), but more creative titles exist that often signify the specialized nature of the program, such as the Master of Justice Administration or the Master of Criminology. They may be offered by a school or college of criminal justice, or by a school of social science, professional studies, or some other discipline. Core areas of study include criminology, policy, statistics, and sociology, and some institutions offer specializations such as homeland security, cybersecurity, forensics, and management or administration.

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

Masters in criminal justice jobs include law enforcement, fire science and other first responder roles. What can I do with a masters in criminal justice? There are many types of criminal justice jobs including the following examples and many more:

  • Police Officer
  • Correctional Officer
  • Private Investigator
  • Criminal Profiler
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Conservation Officer
  • Corrections Officer
  • Crime Lab Analyst

Most types of criminal justice careers involve supervisory or advanced positions. Additionally, criminal justice jobs with a master’s degree help mid-career professionals change careers or specialize in a particular niche.

The types of criminal justice careers feature versatile career options and criminal justice jobs with a master’s degree give candidates a huge advantage over non-degree holders. Some employers may require candidates to possess at least a bachelor’s degree, particularly in a corporate environment.

Masters in criminal justice jobs include positions that aren’t open to those with minimum academic qualifications. The types of criminal justice jobs open to those with higher degrees require strong legal knowledge and the ability to manage others.

Flexible learning options and specializations help students decide which online program would work best for them.

Will I Make More Money with a Master’s in Criminal Justice?

The average criminal justice masters salary is $56,000 according to Payscale.com. Criminology degree jobs salary can be significantly higher than positions requiring no college degree. Criminology jobs salary opportunities increase with a master’s degree.

For example, a paralegal requires a certification or two-year degree, and paralegals make between $32,000 and $57,000. With a masters in criminal justice salary, a graduate could land a job as a security director making between $40,000 to $140,000 per year or an average of $75,000. Meanwhile, the masters in criminal justice jobs salary for a fraud investigator is between $46,000 and $91,000 for an average of $64,000.

Criminal justice management salary ranges often depend on job experience and education. However, with a higher degree, candidates become more qualified and eligible for these roles. A criminology degree jobs salary for a probation officer starts at $32,000. However, with experience and a higher degree, some professionals can reach salaries of $68,000 and higher in this field.

Criminology jobs salary open up in government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the private sector. Meanwhile, a masters in criminal justice salary for a program director at a nonprofit ranges from $42,000 to $81,000. Experience and a higher degree can put candidates closer to the top 10% of that range.

Masters in criminal justice jobs salary for a security manager tops off at $152,000, with midcareer professionals making an average of $89,000. for graduates interested in becoming compliance directors, the average salary is $104,000. A criminal justice masters salary or criminal justice management salary can make it worthwhile for students who sacrifice their time and energy to complete their degrees online.

Working in criminal justice can be very rewarding both financially and personally. Students considering a lifelong career in the field should consider getting their master’s degree for improved opportunities and higher salary expectations.

For those who do choose a masters degree in criminal justice, taking classes online provides the ultimate flexibility. This is particularly true for students living in remote areas or with unpredictable schedules due to work and family responsibilities.

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